Situated in the dry central plains of Burma on the banks of the Ayeyarwady (Irrawaddy) River, Pagan (Bagan) is the capital of many ancient kingdoms in Burma. The area is now a rural historical site, known as Pagan Archaeological Zone, and is one of Burma’s top attractions. The zone covers an area of 26-sq mile with hundreds of temples and pagodas filling the horizon in every direction. After conquering the Mon capital of Thaton in 1057, King Anawrahta brought back the Tripithaka scriptures, Buddhist monks and craftsmen who helped him transform Pagan into religious and cultural centre. Even after the kingdom fell to the Mongols in 1287, the city continued to flourish as a place for Buddhist studies.
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Top things to do in Pagan
Climb Mount Popa
Mount Popa, part of the Pegu Range 50km south-east of Pagan (Bagan), is a volcano with an altitude of 1,518 metres (4,981 feet). Considered by local people to be the abode of the 37 Mahagiri nats, or spirits, which are worshipped in conjunction with Buddhism, the mountain has become an important centre for nat worship. Mount Popa is also known for the picturesque Popa Taungkalat, a monastery that sits atop an outcrop nearby. Statues depicting the nats are set in the rocks at the base of the Popa Taungkalat shrine, and adventurous travellers can climb the 400 steps of a covered staircase to the top for superb views of the surrounding countryside.
See the legendary temples of Pagan
With more than 2,200 temples, pagodas and shrines spread across an area of 67 sq km, there is much to explore and multiple days are essential to get the most from this fascinating Unesco world heritage site. The ideal way to see the site is by private car with an expert local guide, who can bring the temples alive with myths, legends and details of the history of the Kingdom of Pagan (Bagan). A knowledgeable guide can lead you to any temples and sites that match your interests, such as sculpture, mural paintings and architecture. Most itineraries feature the Ananda temple, arguably the most beautiful temple in Pagan, the masterpiece of Mon architecture, and one of the largest and best preserved of Pagan's temples. For those wanting to end the day with something special, visit one of the smaller, quieter temples at dusk and enjoy dinner and drinks as the sun sets over the plains and temples.
Sunrise balloon ride over Pagan
Drifting serenely in a balloon over Pagan (Bagan) as the sun rises, and seeing its myriad pagodas and temples dotted over the plains below, is one of the most memorable experiences on a journey through Burma. Make an early morning start to the launch site, where tea and coffee are served as the crew prepares the balloon. Watching the inflation of the balloon and experiencing lift-off is spectacular. The balloon ride starts at dawn and lasts for approximately 45 minutes to 1 hour, affording some unique and breathtaking views. On landing, a light champagne breakfast is served to round off the perfect start to the day.
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